Schools, jobs, DROP highlight 8th Council District debate

Posted: April 27, 2011

All seven Democratic candidates vying for the 8th Councilmanic District agreed on one thing Wednesday night: Whoever wins needs to roll up their sleeves.

During a lively forum in Germantown, sponsored by the Committee of Seventy, the League of Women Voters and WHYY, the candidates discussed ways to improve public safety, economic opportunities and education in the district, which stretches from Northwest to North Philadelphia and includes parts of Nicetown, Tioga, Germantown, Chestnut Hill and Mount Airy.

The seat is up for grabs because Councilwoman Donna Reed Miller is stepping down after 14 years. Competing are: Cindy Bass, William Durham, Andrew Lofton, Greg Paulmier, Robin Tasco, Howard Treatman and Verna Tyner.

Jobs and schools were cited by all the candidates as top priorities to help stem population loss.

"We have to fix the situation with economics and bring jobs. But we also need to fix the education system," said Lofton, who has worked with the Urban Affairs Coalition for 15 years.

Moderator Chris Satullo, executive director of news and civic dialogue for WHYY, got the candidates going early by asking about what role Council members should play in education decisions, in light of the controversy surrounding a charter-school contract at Martin Luther King High School.

All the candidates agreed that the voices of parents and students should carry more weight. Bass commended Mayor Nutter for launching an investigation.

"I'd like to see what the facts are and let's hold people accountable from there," said Bass, a longtime aide to U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah. "I think that's just critical. It's important that we have young people, we have parents, we have administrators [involved]."

Community organizer Durham then chimed in: "The community decided in what direction they wanted to take Martin Luther King school, and a group of people got in a room and said the community is not going to get that."

On economic development, the candidates all said that the community should have a voice in the process. Former ward leader Paulmier said that "we should get the last word about what does happen here."

The biggest crowd reaction came after the candidates were asked if they would support a Council president that had participated in the controversial DROP retirement program. All the candidates except for Bass said that they would not back a current or future DROP participant. Bass said that she didn't want to limit her options.

Tyner, a former chief of staff to Councilman Bill Greenlee, stood up, saying "I will not, never today or tomorrow." Her comments were echoed by Tasco, a former staffer for the electricians union, who said: "There is no gray area."

Asked about term limits, Lofton, Tasco, Treatman and Tyner said that they supported limits, while Bass, Durham and Paulmier said no.

"It's clear that the pattern we've had in our city, we end up with an ossified City Council," said Treatman, a Germantown developer.